Shawnee Mission South teen finds passion working with students with special needs

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- Bergen Cooper's passion is working with people with special needs. In fact, one day, she plans to become a special education teacher.

"I like to think of myself as a role model for those around me," Bergen said.

She's the definition of a role model at Shawnee Mission South.

She's active in several organizations, but the one closest to her heart is personal life skills, or PLS. In this role, Bergen works directly as a cadet teacher and peer mentor with students with special needs.

"Just seeing them grow in the amount of time that we have them in that class is just so impactful,” Bergen said.

For Bergen, working with this population of students is a dream come true.

“They might look different or be a little different, but they have a heart," she said. "It's just an amazing difference you can see in the kids with just a little bit of help."

She truly is making a difference.

"We went for it, and we made a prom," Bergen said.

She and a fellow student are credited for creating a special needs prom at Shawnee Mission South.

"To see the looks on their faces walking in -- they were amazed,” she said.

The event had a red carpet theme, and the night was customized to the students attending.

"There were sensory lights. We wanted to make sure the lights were not crazy and going off. The music was not too loud. We wanted to make sure it was appropriate music that they would know," Bergen said.

Her hard work doesn't go unnoticed.

"She really helps out with those kids to help them integrate into the social activities at South," teacher and library media specialist Julie Fales said.

Fales says Bergen teaches her something new every day, but most importantly, she serves as a constant reminder to be happy.

“The cheerleader for any of the groups that she gets into,” Fales said.

Bergen is also a varsity cheerleader and gymnast and lettered all four years of high school. She's a yearbook editor, a member of the Black Student Union and mentors freshmen.

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